Bloc Party – Four (album) (Frenchkiss Records)
It had been four long years since we heard new music from Bloc Party. Announcing their return last year, the drought was finally broken in July 2012 via the single, ‘Octopus’ (click to read review), which reintroduced listeners to the guitar-driven side of the band that was for the most part missing from 2008’s ‘Intimacy’ album. A second track, ‘Day Four’ (click to read review), surfaced a couple of weeks later reminding us of the sheer beauty and density of their music.
Where each of the band’s studio albums (‘Silent Alarm’, ‘A Weekend In The City’ and ‘Intimacy’) progressed in terms of songwriting and sonic exploration, the band’s decision to return to the indie/post-punk roots of their debut was a surprise (and a relief for many fans). While ‘Octopus’ saw the band return to a familiar sound, make no mistake the only thing ‘Four’ has in common with ‘Silent Alarm’ is that they’re both guitar albums.
The first listen is quite jarring: surprising, disconcerting and even suspicious in places. However after just a second spin, everything falls into place. ‘Four’ is a creative and sometimes brilliant piece of work and making comparisons to ‘Silent Alarm’ won’t do it justice.
Instrumentation is kept to essentials only: two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals; the band completely abandon the use of synthesizers and electronics, which featured so prominently on their last two efforts. At a time when electronica and dance music has taken centre stage, the fact Bloc Party have come out with a guitar album is admirable in itself. ‘Four’ is the quartet’s most guitar-driven album to date and while not known for their heaviness, some of the riffs here are astonishingly so.
The urgency and tension usually so present in Bloc Party’s music is for the most part missing but it can be found in highlight tracks “3’x 3”, “Truth” and “Day Four”. Creativity flourishes in large sections of the album with interesting, unconventional arrangements, odd and oftentimes unpredictable note progressions, and an innovative use of guitar effects. One of the strong points is Kele Okereke’s vocals, which has never sounded better showcasing a powerfully impressive range, inspired melodies, and a variation of tones.
Album opener, “So He Begins To Lie” is a shock to the system with its massive, bass-heavy riffs and thick grooves. This is not the sound of indie/post-punk; this is the sound of a rock/metal track and the band pushing into overdrive. In what may initial sound contradictory in contrast to the sheer heaviness of the music, Kele’s vocal tone and melody reveals a sense of grace. “3 x 3” continues with the album’s riff-heavy sound and here Okereke hits vocal heights like never before, entering almost ‘Maiden-like territory. Most comparable to “Talons” from ‘Intimacy’ in terms of its darkness and heaviness, “3 x 3” is a short but intense number climaxing as Kele bellows “Yes!”.
First single, “Octopus” is a return to a more familiar sounding Bloc Party. The most direct song on the album, ‘”Octopus” is deceptively catchy, centered on a simple riff with a clever delay effect and Russell Lissack’s trademark Telecaster sound. “Real Talk” showcases a sound and style the band has not previously explored; with the exception of Okereke’s vocals, which feature a stunningly gorgeous falsetto during the chorus, you’d be hard pressed to pick this as a Bloc Party track. The song features odd but interesting chord progressions and guitar textures, and upon first listen it’s near impossible to pick what note will follow.
If you thought nu-metal was dead, “Kettling” proves that it is alive and well with its Deftones meets Smashing Pumpkins circa ‘Mellon Collie…’ sound (think ‘Bodies’ and ‘Where Boys Fear To Tread’). Look out for the song’s guitar solo – indeed a Bloc Party rarity. The album tone and mood eases on “Day Four”. Dubbed by many as this album’s equivalent of “This Modern Love”, “Day Four” is simply gorgeous, floating along with such grace. A definite album highlight.
“Coliseum” is where things get suspicious. Continuing with this album’s sonic explorations, “Coliseum” starts with a Drop-D acoustic guitar and southern-style groove sounding oddly like Days of The New (anyone remember them?). Things get stranger when after the first minute the song transforms into a nu-metal section with riffs and grooves you’d expect from Rob Zombie and Static-X. After only a couple of minutes this rather manic and disjointed song comes to an end.
Things are restored on “V.A.L.I.S.” where we finally hear more of their indie/post-punk side. Characterized by its jangling indie guitar melodies, “V.A.L.I.S.” flows effortlessly and is certainly one of the best tracks on the album. There is no catchier moment on ‘Four’ than the soul-sounding harmonies of “show me, show me” heard here. “Team A” is an up-tempo indie/rock number that like “Octopus” revolves around guitar delay-effects. However, the song leaves you in constant anticipation for a chorus or key change, which never arrives.
“Truth” follows and would be right at home on the ‘Intimacy’ album or nestled between the final 3 tracks on ‘Silent Alarm’. Emotionally engaging and simply beautiful, “Truth” is the most indie sounding held together by a solid bass line, steady beat, and a delicate vocal melody. Following on perfectly is “The Healing”, which is another gorgeous track given an edge by a slightly distorted drum track. The stunning delayed guitar passages combined with Okereke’s falsetto create an epic sound and like “Truth” and “Day Four” before it, “The Healing” pulls on the listener’s heart strings.
The final track, “We’re Not Good People” is a big, groovy riff driven song with a sound not unlike Queens of The Stone Age or old Soundgarden and another likely single.
The hype and anticipation surrounding ‘Four’ meant it was never going to live up to expectation. ‘Four’ is different to their previous outings but stick with it – the rewards are there with several truly breathtaking moments, increasing with every spin.
‘Four’ will be released on August 20 and is streaming in its entirety on the band’s website right now.
Watch the video for “Octopus” below: